In February and April, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) board members discussed the way in which long-term facility planning should be undertaken, opting to resurrect a facilities committee to study enrollment figures, building use and condition, and other data. That committee would then be expected to bring back information for the board to consider, as well as options for building configuration in future years.
On Thursday, board members learned that superintendent Scott Hannon had not yet formed the committee, and that he had decided to use a different process for facility planning. First, he said, the board should be presented with updated facility and enrollment data; then, the committee could get to work.
It's not the first time that meaningful facility planning work has been delayed, and although Hannon told the board on Thursday that he felt the yet-to-be-formed committee could wrap up its work by November, it is clear the task will require lengthy discussion. During the April 2013 meeting, Hannon warned the board that the committee's work would not be quick.
"The first thing to do is what I've been doing, which is to develop this membership group and get some timelines and say, 'Here is our task. What are some timelines? How soon can we get this information to you?'" he told the board in April. "It's not going to happen overnight. This is a big thing to get our arms around; there's no question about it. It's going to take a dedicated group to dog this and keep on it, and keep meeting at a regular basis."
During Thursday's meeting, Hannon told the board he had contacted a few people who might make good members of the facilities committee, but that the group had not yet been formed. Because the current members of the School Board have little experience in facility planning, Hannon said, it would be a good idea to go over the information with the board first, so that it could provide the committee with some direction.
Hannon told the board that when he first began working in the district, it had approximately twice as many students. Enrollment levels are beginning to stabilize following a period of declining student populations, he said, and board members need to examine whether the district should continue to maintain aging elementary schools.
Board member Jeanne Nelson asked that Hannon consider some of the ways that WAPS may grow in the future, too, citing a waiting list for preschool and a desire to expand that program. The library at W-K Elementary, Nelson noted, is in a hallway; broom closets are used for educational activities, elementary building stages are all now used for storage, and teacher lunchrooms have also been absorbed by other space needs, she said. "We've lost some of those things that I really do believe are part of education," she explained.
Hannon said district leaders should also look to the future of education in facility planning, as online learning opportunities will likely require less classroom space. "Some board is going to have to make some decisions at some point," he said. "If we keep them all, we have to pay for them all."
Board member Jay Kohner asked if the committee would really be able to accomplish its task by November. Hannon told the board that, as long as the committee was not expected to produce extremely detailed information, he was confident it could report back to the board within that time frame.